Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

A leadership role

Tom Foster is a key player in industry, business and the community

It's been 60 years since Industrial Machine & Manufacturing Inc. came to be, and while company president Tom Foster may come home tired once in a while, he never gets bored. Foster is constantly seeking new challenges and new ways to boost the profile of Saskatchewan industry, and new ways to help the people of the province.

"Making sure we maintain our standing in a diverse economy means we have to look for, accept and enjoy challenges," says Foster, who owns the mid-sized custom Saskatoon-based manufacturing company with his wife, Robin.

Industrial Machine & Manufacturing, or IMM, was founded in 1956 to serve emerging heavy industries in the province. Foster's father Perry bought the business in 1976.

"We are a multi-generational family business servicing the mining, oil and gas and power generation industries. Having withstood all the turbulent times along the way has been an accomplishment in itself."

A 1991 graduate from Saskatchewan Polytechnic's Mechanical Engineering Technology program, Foster started on the shop floor at IMM. He became president in 2008 when his older brother Craig retired.

His sister, Lina Foster, is also a key player in the company, serving as the director of administration and safety, quality, and productivity.

The company's staff of 68 includes many with 20 years or more of service, and in several cases more than one generation of a family works side by side.

"We're a business family and a family in business," he says.

IMM has customers around the globe, including Canada, the U.S., Ecuador, Venezuela, Norway, the U.K., New Zealand and Indonesia.

"Thanks to the markets we serve and the breadth of our footprint, we've been able to take on terrific projects all over the province and the world," Foster says.

The company has contributed to economic growth, job creation and quality of life in Saskatchewan. In 2014, IMM was the inaugural recipient of the Saskatchewan Manufacturer of the Year award for exemplary achievement in business success, dedication to community and industry and employer excellence.

Phenomenal partnership

Foster credits Sask Polytech for his success, both in building the foundation for his leadership role and for formalizing the training he got on the floor. The institution is also a significant source of talent for IMM's current workforce.

"The majority, if not all, of our staff members have at some point benefited from their education at Sask Polytech. It's been a phenomenal partnership from the very beginning of our company, and our main source for recruiting employees," Foster says.

IMM's human resources department works closely with Sask Polytech, and the company has offered scholarships toward the institution's industrial programs.

"With the rapid growth of Saskatchewan's manufacturing industry, Sask Polytech plays an instrumental role in ensuring we can produce the employees the industry needs right now."

Connect and collaborate

IMM recently teamed up with five other companies to design and build large, automated underground machinery for potash mines.

It took 44 weeks to build the first and 22 weeks to build the second of these 12-metre, 1,400 horsepower, 160-tonne machines. They are now used in several mines.

Lina Foster says where there's potential for a better outcome, the company doesn't hesitate to work directly with its competitors.

"It's a way to adapt to challenging times, especially in situations when one company can land a project but can't achieve all aspects of it. It's the connections and collaborations you make over time that help bring things together and move them forward."

Saskatchewan solution

As an advocate for the promotion of Saskatchewan industrial manufacturers and suppliers, Tom Foster played an instrumental role in founding the Saskatchewan Industrial & Mining Suppliers Association Inc., or SIMSA. Launched in April 2013, the organization promotes Saskatchewan solutions for global resource industries.

The association represents more than 80 members, over 2,000 employees and tens of millions in annual investment here in Saskatchewan. Members range from small operations to companies with annual sales over $1 billion.

"I saw a clear need to better promote Saskatchewan's supply chain to companies that were coming here to take advantage of our natural resources, mining, oil and gas and power generation," Foster says.

As SIMSA board chair, Foster continues his collaboration with customers, competitors and Saskatchewan suppliers to serve worldwide resource industries and develop innovative products. 

For more alumni stories check out our Saskatchewan Polytechnic Magazine.